Friday, 5 July 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Morag a Chota Bhain/Margery White Coats (Scotland, 1860)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we look at another tale collected by JF Campbell in his 1860  Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected, vol. 1. We looked at his story of The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter last week, but this tale of  Morag a Chota Bhain/Margery White Coats was sufficiently different to warrant its own entry.

This tale begins like last week’s tale with a father who says he will only marry the person that his dead wife’s clothes fit. Thankfully, this version does not go into the creepy aspect (It was fitting her well) like last week. In last week’s version she went to see her muime (foster mother) but this week out magical helper is her maternal uncle. He gives her the advice about requesting dresses and shoes (we are back to glass slippers again in a nod to Charles Perrault) as well as a filly with a magic bridle.

In other versions she asks for a disguise of fur or feathers or pelts of fleas, but here she just strips down to her petticoat and shift and goes to work in the kitchen, letting the hard work of tending the fire under the cauldron make her “dirty and ugly.”

Several other versions have the prince being very abusive to her, shouting and throwing things at her head when she is in her dirty state and wooing her in her clean state, making him (in my opinion) not a good love match. This tale is unusual in that it is her future mother-in-law the Queen who is so abusive. She throws a basin and a candlestick at our heroine’s head when she dares to ask to go to the feast. This does not stop our plucky heroine who goes out to her hidden chest of clothes, puts on her posh frock and calls for her filly by producing the magic bridle. She then rides to the feast and makes the prince fall in love with her.

At the end when the shoe fits, everyone (not just the Queen) is incredibly abusive until she goes out once again, puts on her posh frock and shows that she has a horse and then suddenly because she has scrubbed up well she is acceptable.

This tale also includes an interesting footnote from JF Campbell about how the story was collected.
Image result for candlestick

Morag a Chota Bhain -- Margery White Coats source

A king had four daughters, and his wife died, and he said he would marry anyone whom his dead wife's clothes would fit. One day the daughters tried, and the youngest only could wear them.

The king saw them from a window, and wished to marry her, and she went for advice to her mother's brother. He advised her to promise to marry the king if he would bring her a gown of birds' down, and a gown of the colours of the sky, woven with silver; and when he got that, a gown of the colours of the stars, woven with gold, and glass shoes.

When he had got them, she escaped with all her clothes, by the help of her uncle, on a filly, with a magic bridle, she on one side, and her chest of clothes on the other. She rode to a king's palace, hid the chest in a hill under a bush of rushes, turned the filly loose, and went to the palace with nothing on but a white petticoat and a shift. She took service with the cook, and grew dirty and ugly, and slept on a bench by the kitchen fire, and her work was to blow under the great caldron all day long.

One day the king's son came home and was to hold a feast; she went to the queen and asked leave to go and was refused because she was so dirty. The queen had a basin of water in her hand, and threw it at her, and it broke. She went to the hill, took out the dress of down and silver, and shook her magic bridle; the filly came, and she mounted, and rode to the feast.

The king's son took her by the hand, and took her up as high as any there, and set her on his own lap; and when the feast was over, there was no reel that he danced but he gave it to her.

He asked her whence she came, and she said, "From the kingdom of Broken Basins," and the prince said that he had never heard of that land, though he had travelled far.

She escaped and returned to the cook, and all were talking about the beautiful lady. She asked about her and was told not to talk about what she did not understand, "a dirty little wretch like her."

Then the prince had another feast; and she asked leave again, and the queen refused, and threw a candlestick at her, and it broke, and she did as before. She put on another dress and went; the king's son had eight men on each side of the door to catch her. The same scene went on, and she said she came from the country of Candlesticks, and escaped, leaving a glass shoe.

Then the king's son fell sick (of course) and would only marry the woman whom the shoe would fit; and all the ladies came and cut off their toes and heels, but in vain. Then he asked if there was none other.

Then a small creature put his head in at the door and said, "If thou didst but know, she whom thou seekest is under the cook."

Then he got the history of the basin and candlestick from his mother. The shoe was tried and fitted, and he was to marry Morag.

All were in despair and abused her; but she went out to her chest, shook the magic bridle, and arrayed herself, and came back on the filly, with a "powney" behind with the chest. Then all there that had despised her fell on their knees, and she was married to the prince.

"And I did not get a bit there at the wedding," said the girl.

Campbell’s Notes On the Tale

This was told as we walked along the road and is but a short outline of what was told me, written from notes made in the evening. The man said that the girl told it with a great deal of the queer old language, which he could not remember.

The girl and her chest on the same horse may be seen in the Highlands. The girl, in her white coats and short gown, may be seen blowing the fire in highland inns, the queen's likeness might be found; and the feast is a highland ball; the filly and the magic bridle are common in other stories; the incidents of the basin and candlestick have an equivalent in Norse; and I got them from a woman at the Sound of Barra afterwards, in another story. This shows what may be lost by dignified traveling. While the man was enjoying himself in the kitchen, the employer was smoking in solitary dignity, upstairs in his bedroom, writing a journal, and utterly unconscious that the game he pursued was so near.

I have other versions of this tale from other sources and may find room for them hereafter.

You can see more extensive notes by Campbell HERE if you’ are interested.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale from the land of Broomthrow, Brushthrow and Combthrow.

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